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Rather than mooove beef, a new cattle processor in Sevier County can keep it local

For Utah ranchers, it can be a challenge to find local options for processing livestock, like this cow seen in Washington County, June 12, 2024. A new facility in Richfield is taking steps to change that.
David Condos
/
KUER
For Utah ranchers, it can be a challenge to find local options for processing livestock, like this cow seen in Washington County, June 12, 2024. A new facility in Richfield is taking steps to change that.

Utah is home to 335,000 beef cattle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But for the state's thousands of cattle ranchers, there haven’t been many local avenues for getting their beef to market.

Instead, ranchers often send their livestock as far away as California or Texas to be processed, said Utah Beef Producers owner Henry Barlow. That’s money leaving the state of Utah.

“When a rancher has 100 head [of cattle] coming off the mountain and he has no place to get them harvested, his choice has simply been to sell them out of state. … So there's been a massive need.”

As a cattle-producing state, Utah ranks in the middle of the pack nationally — 27th — but ranching still adds up for the state economy. According to USDA data, Utah cattle and calves generated around a half billion dollars in 2021, accounting for roughly a quarter of the state’s gross income from agriculture.

That’s why Barlow opened a new beef processing facility in the town of Richfield in Sevier County. The plant joins a very small group of federally inspected beef processing facilities in the state.

Harlow, who also raises cattle in Sanpete County, said the new plant’s immediate impact will be to help ranchers keep more money in their wallets. They often have to wait in line for several months to get their livestock processed at out-of-state facilities, he said, which costs more to feed the cattle in the meantime.

That’s on top of the steep price of trucking a bunch of large animals across the country.

“By the time you ship a calf back East, finish it there, harvest it there and ship it out West … think about the transportation cost,” Barlow said.

“A lot of the steaks that hit the coast and the casinos and the restaurants in those big cities in the West, they've got 3,000 miles on that.”

Utah is home to more than 300,000 cattle, like the ones seen here in Washington County, June 12, 2024. However, a lack of local processing facilities means ranchers often need to ship their livestock out-of-state to get them to market, driving up costs.
David Condos
/
KUER
Utah is home to more than 300,000 cattle, like the ones seen here in Washington County, June 12, 2024. However, a lack of local processing facilities means ranchers often need to ship their livestock out-of-state to get them to market, driving up costs.

In addition to saving ranchers money, increased local beef production could also benefit Utah consumers, said Kaylie Gines, co-owner at Heritage Craft Butchers in Orem. About half of the beef they sell is locally sourced, she said, and the shop has seen a greater demand for more.

“People are interested in learning about where their meat comes from, the different cuts, the different cooking techniques. … It's really fun as a butcher to be that educational piece.”

As consumers find out about what goes into raising the beef they eat, she said they’re learning that the quality of the animal’s life can impact the quality of the final product — and they are willing to pay for local meat. To keep up with demand, the butcher shop plans to open a second location in Spanish Fork this fall.

It’s part of a larger trend toward connecting ranchers with customers nearby. For example, a 2022 Kansas State University study found consumer interest in buying meat directly from local producers greatly increased in 2020-2021 compared with previous years.

The addition of new processing facilities like the one in Richfield won’t directly help her business, Gines said, since the shop’s staff cuts its meat in-house. But as far as she is concerned, it’s all part of a positive shift toward butchering more local beef in Utah.

“It's a craft that was dying but is in an upswing right now.”

Keeping more cattle in Utah could also boost rural economies that have traditionally depended on agriculture, said Sevier County Commissioner Ralph Brown.

“[The new facility] has been a great thing for this little valley. It's bringing jobs — good jobs — in. It's just filled a vacant building. … For Sevier County, it's what we've needed.”

Utah Beef Producers owner Henry Barlow, center, cuts a ceremonial ribbon at the facility in Richfield, March 30, 2024. U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy, who represents the area, stands to Barlow’s right.
Courtesy Utah Beef Producers
Utah Beef Producers owner Henry Barlow, center, cuts a ceremonial ribbon at the facility in Richfield, March 30, 2024. U.S. Rep. Celeste Maloy, who represents the area, stands to Barlow’s right.

Utah Beef Producers will also partner with Snow College’s Richfield campus to build a pipeline of local graduates trained in meat industry trades, Brown said.

After two years of planning and construction, the Richfield facility began operations in April. Right now, the company has around 25 employees and processes between 30 and 50 cattle per day. The goal is to increase that to 150 cattle a day with 100 employees.

That’s still relatively small compared to massive meatpacking warehouses elsewhere — for instance, one beef plant in Kansas employs 3,000 people and slaughters 6,000 cattle per day — but it can still make a big difference for Utah ranchers.

“Nothing to this magnitude has been built in Utah in over 50 years,” Barlow said.

“We're turning things around to where thousands of cattle are not having to leave the state like they used to. … A lot of these [ranchers] could buy a brand new pickup truck with what they're going to save in freight. Now, you want to impact a rancher, think about giving them a new pickup truck.”

David Condos is KUER’s southern Utah reporter based in St. George.
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